Large states with small populations have unique needs that GA is well positioned to meet. In Maine, as nowhere else on the East Coast, opportunities to fly can be found in abundance from the coast to the lakes and mountains of the interior—regardless of whether recreational, remote, retro, or rural is the word that best describes your aviation brand of choice.
The one-day Maine Aviation Forum “is recognized by the Aero Club of New England for its commitment to promoting General Aviation in Maine.” The event gathers the leaders of Maine-based aviation organizations to share ideas and coordinate activities for the coming year, said forum coordinator Duke Tomlin, a member of the Maine Aeronautical Advisory Board and the Belfast Airport Advisory Committee, and president of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1434 of Belfast.
Kevin Waters is a familiar face at the Maine Aviation Forum and a locally well-known businessman whose aircraft keep the residents of Maine’s offshore islands supplied and in touch. Flying a fleet of single-engine airplanes into the short, windswept, VFR-only island airstrips, his company, Penobscot Island Air, can touch down at an island destination in 10 minutes that would take a ferry more than an hour to reach, he said. (If you have ever wondered what it would be like to fly for a modern-day service that is reminiscent of a generation past, watch this video.)
Lifeflight of Maine is another aviation organization serving communities, by providing critical-care transportation with a fleet of Agusta 109E and a 109SP helicopters that can cut a day’s round-trip road travel from Caribou on the state’s northern border with Canada to medical care in Bangor down to less than two hours. The nonprofit’s Beech King Air 200 extends the service’s reach and its weather capabilities. Noting in his presentation that “airports are very important pieces of medical technology,” Lifeflight flight medical crewmember Joshua Dickson described how the organization is working to establish new helicopter instrument approaches at Maine medical facilities, is advocating for improvements to existing aviation infrastructure, and coordinates with the volunteer managers of remote airports for real-time updates about airport runway conditions.
Flying clubs are a well-established presence on the personal flying scene in Maine, and their numbers were represented by the Bald Eagle Flying Club, based at Portland International Jetport; the home airport’s Knox Country Flying Club; and the Bangor Air National Guard Flying Club, which reported a broadening of its membership eligibility requirements. All three clubs are listed on the AOPA Flying Club Finder, a resource of the AOPA You Can Fly program’s Flying Clubs initiative.
In a presentation to the estimated 60 pilots present, AOPA Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins discussed the association’s work to reduce the cost of flying, highlighting the AOPA You Can Fly program’s multiple initiatives to support and grow the pilot population. The initiatives include the Rusty Pilots seminars that in 2017 brought more than 8,000 pilots back to aviation at more than 250 seminars across the country; the continuing development of a four-year high school aviation curriculum, under which more than 700 high-schoolers studied in 2017; aviation scholarships; and the Flight Training Experience Awards, by which AOPA recognizes excellence in the flight training industry based on feedback from its customers.
“Don’t fly alone,” was the message delivered by Mary Parsons, an air traffic controller at Bangor International Airport’s Air Traffic Control Tower, giving a presentation that showed pilots how their aircraft appear to controllers in Bangor’s Class C airspace and the surrounding airspace in which her facility provides service. The presentation also illustrated how aircraft equipped with ADS-B appear on the facility’s recently upgraded displays. Following her presentation, Parsons took questions from pilots and provided some personalized advice about communications with ATC, taking time to jot down some scenario-based phraseology for a pilot uncertain of the expected protocols.
Youth education has long been a mainstay of Maine’s aviation community, through such programs as Maine Ace Camp, part of the nationwide program for middle- and high-schoolers co-sponsored by the FAA, and supported by the military, state and local aviation businesses, GA, and volunteers. Spokesman Peter Marucci profiled camp activities and urged forum-goers to spread the word about opportunities available for Maine youth to participate.
The Maine Aeronautics Association works to promote aviation education through ACE Camp support, scholarships, programs, events, and a website that pulls together a wide variety of information about aviation in Maine, including the year’s calendar of events, said Lisa Reece, Maine Aeronautics Association president. The organization is also working with AOPA to create an Aviation Day event to bring aviation issues to the forefront at the Capitol in Augusta at a future date.
Reece noted that the 2018 Air Race Classic, the annual all-women’s air race that dates to 1929, will conclude on June 22 at Eastern Slopes Regional Airport in Fryeburg, after the two-pilot racing teams complete a three-day course that will originate in Sweetwater, Texas, with stops in Faribault, Minnesota; Galesburg, Illinois; Auburn, Indiana; Cadillac, Michigan; Newark, Ohio; and Penn Yan, New York.
Backcountry aviation has many devotees in Maine. Andy Rowe, a state liaison for the Recreational Aviation Foundation, brought pilots up to date on the status of projects to improve and open access to airports located in the remote reaches of Maine’s north woods—but the variety of aviation in Maine doesn’t end with a landing at the RAF's Ragmuff airstrip.
For those seeking college-level aviation education, information was available about the University of Maine-Augusta’s aviation program and its unmanned aircraft program. Michael Lessard of WINGsReality showed how his online classes help pilots all around the world—together with those who show up at his Orono, Maine, wired classrooms—refresh their aeronautical knowledge.
And for light sport and amphibious aircraft aficionados, Paul Richards of Atol Avion shared images and specs of the two-seat amphibious LSA being developed in a U.S.-Finland joint venture. Another branch of Maine’s aviation family attended the gathering in the person of John Gobel of the Maine Powerchute Association, that each year holds about 12 fly-ins around the state.
If the early vibe is any indication, Maine is off to a flying start in 2018.